‘A true hero’: Injuries force police dog Dax to retire after storied 9-year career

A month after suffering serious injuries while tracking down a suspected car thief, renowned Lake County sheriff’s police dog Dax is turning in his badge.

“There is no way to quantify or properly express what Dax’s service has meant to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the Lake County community, his supporters across the nation, and especially me,” Dax’s partner, Deputy John Forlenza, said in a retirement announcement Thursday.

“His service has been exemplary, and most importantly, he has saved countless lives, including my own. I am proud to have been his handler and best friend for the last nine years,” he added. “Dax is a true hero and well deserving of the rest and love that waits for him in his retirement.”

The 9-year-old German shepherd will continue to live with Forlenza and his family in retirement.

Dax suffered neck and spine injuries on March 3 while apprehending a suspect in a wooded area near Zion. Authorities say the suspect had stolen a car in Wisconsin and then was pursued into Illinois, where he crashed and fled on foot before his capture.

The injuries left Dax suffering temporary paralysis to his hindquarters, officials said. He later was diagnosed with cervical and thoracolumbar Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and lumbosacral IVDD.

Lake County sheriff's police dog Dax was surrounded with get-well cards and treats while recovering from an injury suffered March 3. Courtesy of the Lake County Sheriff's Office

Through intensive physical therapy, Dax regained his ability to walk and use his hind legs, but his team of veterinarians determined that he should not return to active duty, according to the sheriff’s office.

It’s the end of a storied career that began when Dax, then 13 months old, joined the sheriff’s office in the spring of 2015. Over the years, he and Forlenza have located more than 400 missing/endangered people or fleeing felons, seized hundreds of kilos of illegal drugs, millions of dollars of ill-gotten cash and dozens of firearms discarded by offenders.

His exploits have earned him more than a dozen awards and honors. He’s appeared on national television programs, including the “Today” show, “Access Daily,” “America’s Top Dog,” “Dynamic K9 Duos,” and “Hero Dogs,” not to mention numerous local TV appearances and even “People” magazine.

Lake County sheriff’s police dog Dax, joined by partner Deputy John Forlenza, poses in front of a poster of himself at the American Humane Hero Dog Awards Gala. Dax won the Law Enforcement Award in 2019. Courtesy of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office

His long list of awards includes Illinois House of Representatives — General Assembly Award (2016); Chicago Crime Commission — Paws of Distinction Award (2017); K9s of Valor Foundation — K9 of the Year (2018); The 100 Club of Chicago — Valor Award (2019); American Humane Hero Dog — Law Enforcement Winner (2019); Italian American Police Association — Officer of the Year (2019) Illinois Sheriff’s Association — Award of Merit (2022); Illinois Law Enforcement — Medal of Honor (2023); and The German shepherd Dog Club of America — Hero Dog Award (2023).

Dax also competed in several regional and national United States Police Canine Association trials across the country, earning top finishes in the areas of tracking, article searches, narcotics, suspect searches and protection. In all, Dax won six USPCA Regional Championships and earned two Tracking Exceptional Certifications.

Among the many television appearances for Lake County sheriff’s police dog Dax and partner Deputy John Forlenza was a spot on the “Today” show. Courtesy of Lake County Sheriff’s Office

“Deputy John Forlenza and K9 Dax exemplify what a true partnership looks like,” Sheriff John D. Idleburg said in Thursday’s announcement. “They are among the top canine teams in the nation. There was virtually nothing K9 Dax couldn’t handle.”

A retirement ceremony will be held at a future date, officials said.

Lake County sheriff’s police dog Dax poses with some of the trophies he’s won over the years in national and regional competitions. Courtesy of Lake County Sheriff’s Department

Targeting AI child porn

A suburban lawmaker and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul are teaming up on legislation that would outlaw the use of AI technology to create child pornography, whether it involves real or digitally created children.

Introduced by state Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a Democrat from Glenview, and backed by Raoul’s office, House Bill 4623 unanimously passed the House’s Judiciary-Criminal Committee on Tuesday.

Experts from Raoul’s office testified before the committee that technological advances have enabled the creation of realistic, computer-generated images and videos of children. Even when the technology does not use images of real children, the resulting child pornography perpetuates abusive and predatory behavior, they said.

State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz

“Generative AI — the kind that can create realistic images and even videos — is already cheap or free,” Gong-Gershowitz said in a statement Wednesday. “Disgustingly, this technology is being used to create explicit images depicting children. HB4623 is a vital piece of legislation that will help bring our existing sex offender laws up to speed with this rapidly evolving technology.”

Next up for HB 4623 is a debate and vote by the full state House.

We laughed

A quote of the year candidate arrived during Wednesday’s snowstorm, courtesy of the McHenry County sheriff’s Facebook page.

“Lying under oath is not a good look, Woodstock Willie!” the sheriff’s office posted.

As you may recall, Willie — the Midwest’s answer to Punxsutawney Phil — predicted an early spring when he made his annual Groundhog Day appearance on the Woodstock Square.

Woodstock Willie’s prediction of an early spring hasn’t aged too well lately, leading to some good-natured jabs from McHenry County law enforcement. Gregory Shaver/Shaw Local News Network

The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office was first to go after Willie, posting a photo of a groundhog holding a sign reading “I lied.”

“Fake News! I did not lie,” Willie responded (apparently even rodents are on social media). “I said early spring and you got an early spring, not my fault it didn't stick around. Talk to Mother Nature.”

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